At c(3), we understand that charities are more than just organizations that provide water or food or money to those in need. Charities are best understood in terms of the individuals who saw a need in the world and then devoted their lives and resources to fill that need. These passionate people, people like Sarah Elizabeth Nininger of Action in Africa, are people we are incredibly proud to partner with.
You could say that Sarah Elizabeth Nininger grew up typically. She moved from her home town of Aspen, Colorado to California to attend Chapman University, aspiring to play college softball (an aspiration she would call short-lived, according to her blog). Now, eight years later, and a degree in Integrated Educational Studies with a focus in nonprofits and disabilities and a minor in Sociology under her belt, Sarah’s life is far from typical as the President of Action in Africa. To get to know her better, and to understand how she started Action in Africa, we sent Sarah a few questions. Please keep reading to see how Sarah turned a high school fundraising club into working and living in Uganda for Action in Africa.
Q: How did Action in Africa begin?
A: Action in Africa began as a high school club in Aspen, Colorado in 2006. We were just a group of kids trying to make an impact in the world. We started by fundraising for a handful of organizations, which we believed to be doing incredible work throughout Africa. In 2008, we had the opportunity to travel to Uganda, which is when we transitioned into having our own on the ground programs and projects.
Q: Why work in Uganda?
A: Placing Action in Africa in Uganda was serendipitous! In 2008, one of the organizations we were financially supporting invited us to Uganda to see where our money was going. Upon arrival, Uganda immediately captivated our hearts and souls, and Action in Africa has been here ever since! Uganda overall is simply stunning. The people are so kind and generous. The kids are eager to be in school, and the women are dedicated to bettering their lives and families. We couldn’t think of a better place for Action in Africa to call home.
Q: Was living in Uganda an aspiration of yours from the start or an idea that slowly evolved into reality?
A: I do now live in Uganda, and it is a blast! Before moving to Uganda, I had traveled here six other times in between my high school and college years. Ever since my first trip, I have always loved the country and particularly the community that we work in. When we first started Action in Africa I was so young, fifteen to be exact. If you had told me back then that I would be living in Uganda and running Action in Africa full-time at 26, I probably would have laughed. So many wonderful pieces of Action in Africa have fallen into place organically without any predetermined plan. This is inclusive of my big move to Uganda a year and a half ago.
"People always ask me what my personal plan is, and my simple response is, “My only plan is to be surprised.” And so far it has worked out beautifully!"
Q: Is there a particular story that you connected with that drives you to pursue the work you’re doing?
A: The individuals we work with are absolutely what drive us to keep doing what we do. We pride ourselves on the quality of our work, opposed to the quantity. We are proud to know the individual stories of the kids we work with, all about their families, where they stay, when their birthdays are, and what keeps them up at night.
My favorite part about my job is watching these kids take control of their lives and actively chase after their own dreams and passions. The first three kids we started working with are still actively involved with Action in Africa 10 years later. One just graduated from secondary school and is currently applying to university. Another is in his final year of secondary school and holds a leadership position at his school. And the other just rejoined secondary school after a much-needed break for soul searching and to realign his life. I couldn’t be anymore proud to be playing a role in their lives. And these are just three out of the thousands we have had the pleasure to work with over the years.
Q: What’s your daily schedule like?
A: There is no such thing as a consistent schedule at Action in Africa, which makes our jobs and our community center very exciting! Since our community center is centrally located, we are surrounded by tons of schools. In the village we work in, creative based programs are often cut from the schools due to funding, standardized tests, or lack of teachers. So at The Center we offer the opportunity for schools to sign up for free art classes with their students. We host the schools in the morning, and in the afternoons we can be found rotating between secondary schools and one university to join our scholarship students for a weekly lunch and check-in. After school we host homework and tutoring sessions. Once the kids finish their homework, they enjoy a hot cup of porridge, and they participate in outdoor games like volleyball and soccer, or they use our library for free reading.
While most of our energy is focused on children, do have adult English classes in the evenings as well as a support group for women that meet every Friday. This is a quick glance into the every day happenings at Action in Africa!
Q: What are your hopes and plans for the future?
A: My hopes for Action in Africa are to continue doing what we are doing now but even better. We currently do not have plans to grow or expand but do have plans to continue working with our community, students, and parents. Once you grow, there is always the chance of losing the intimacy that you worked so hard to build. I hope in the years to come, our secondary students successfully graduate from school and continue onto vocational programs, university, or even the work force. As an organization, we plan to continue providing the tools and resources needed to help develop Uganda’s next leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.